Published on January 12th, 2022 on Travel Weekly.
Hopes of a near-normal summer have risen a week after news of eased travel testing rules but agents have stressed the need for consistent government advice.
Firms described the scrapping of pre-departure tests on January 7, and of PCR-on arrival tests on January 9, as a “big turning point” at the start of the trade’s peak sales period.
Most agents reported sustained high levels of enquiries, with some welcoming back clients not seen since prior to the pandemic and many witnessing a “sod it” factor after two years of staycations.
Enquiries over the last week have been across all seasons, including for last-minute breaks up to Easter, but particularly strong for this summer, fuelling hopes of ‘normal’ trading.
Advantage Travel Partnership reported its third-best sales week since March 2021. A fifth of bookings were for departures in the next six weeks.
Fred Olsen Travel described sales as “massively up” on January 2020, even reaching 80% of 2019 in the last few days of last week. Head of commercial Paul Hardwick said: “It does feel like a big turning point.”
Most Protected Trust Services’ members reported a surge in enquiries, with average spend at least 50% higher than 2021.
Head of business development Jacqui Cleaver said: “Demand is higher than for over 18 months according to many members. This is the beginning of the end. The only way is up.”
Around 20% of Barrhead Travel’s bookings last week were for travel before the end of March while summer dominated sales. With minimal further changes to travel rules, Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson forecast a summer “much more akin to the volume we’re used to.”
The Travel Network Group was more cautious, saying members were “slowly seeing more enquiries and bookings”.
Individual agencies reported a buoyant first weekend of trading since news of the eased rules.
Bailey’s Travel managing director Chris Bailey said: “It’s not pre-pandemic levels but it’s sufficiently encouraging to make me think we might be on our way back to some form of normality.”
He added there was a sense “we are a travel agent again” despite “years of pain” ahead.
World Travel Lounge managing director David McDonald said 30% of bookings were for lates, while most of the remaining 70% were for summer. “The light is at the end of the tunnel and we’re fast approaching,” he said.
Deben Travel took more bookings on Saturday than for any day in the pandemic but owner Lee Hunt cautioned: “We’re not out of the woods yet. It will take years to have the healthy bank balance we previously had.”
Haslemere Travel owner Gemma Antrobus, who reported being “run off” her feet, said: “I’m hearing back from pre-pandemic clients I’ve not heard from during Covid.”
She urged agents to “take the positives”, adding: “We can do this.”
Henbury Travel owner Richard Slater predicted a late booking surge, with sales tailing off when availability dries up and prices rise, but said many clients were now ‘fed up’ and wanted a holiday.
Optimism was tempered by warnings of current challenges, including staff shortages and debt repayments, with agents stressing the need for a consistent government approach.
Advantage leisure director Kelly Cookes said: “We need these departures to happen for agents to earn.”
A TTNG spokeswoman warned: “We need clear messages from government with regards to their plans on testing and restrictions so customers have the confidence to travel.”
Dobson agreed clients remained fearful of short-notice changes. “They want assurances from the UK and devolved governments there is a commitment to keep travel open without further arbitrary restrictions,” she said, citing “a very long road to full recovery ahead”.